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Telling American history 140 characters at a time

In our NewsHour Shares moment of the day, presidential historian and NewsHour regular Michael Beschloss provides a unique perspective on American history through his Twitter account. He shares some of his favorite digital insights.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    Finally tonight, our "NewsHour" Shares, something that caught our eye that might be of interest to you, too.

    In 2012, a "NewsHour" colleague suggested historian Michael Beschloss create a Twitter profile to share what interested him most. Since then, Beschloss has provided a unique perspective on American history, often through photos, to his more than 140,000 followers.

    He spoke with us recently about some of his favorite posts.

  • MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, Presidential Historian:

    I do a lot of historical photographs, but with a relevance to today, try to find things thta people have not seen before, but also things that remind us that there is a history to some of the events in people we're seeing now.

    This is John Kennedy, 1954, with his wife, Jackie, sister-in-law Ethel taking an early version of what we now call selfies, in this case in a mirror.

    Louis Armstrong in 1961 was playing in Egypt, and a photographer got the wonderful idea of taking him and his wife to the Pyramids and the Sphinx.

    This is really eerie. These are the contents of Abraham Lincoln's pockets on the night that he was murdered. The most amazing thing here is that among the things that Lincoln was holding the night he died was a $5 Confederate bill, and sort of amazing when you think about the fact that nowadays the United States $5 bill has a picture of Abraham Lincoln.

    Six first ladies backstage, an event, 1994, Nancy Reagan, Lady Bird Johnson, Hillary Clinton, Rosalynn Carter, Betty Ford, Barbara Bush. Take a look at the relationships among them. Shows you how one photograph can speak volumes.

    Babe Ruth was knocked out unconscious during a game in 1924, was out for about five minutes, and this was a very different time. He went back into the game and played. It was a doubleheader. He played another game that day. Wouldn't happen today.

    This is a report card that John Lennon got when he was 16 years old, and what his principal said of him was, "He has too many of the wrong ambitions and his energy is often misplaced."

    Marilyn Monroe went to Korea in 1954 to perform for troops. She had a Pentagon I.D., which shows her married name at the time, which was Norma Jeane DiMaggio.

    1865, New York, Abraham Lincoln's funeral parade through the city of New York, and up in the window, upper left in that circle, is a 6-year-old Theodore Roosevelt looking down. For the rest of his life, he was affected by this. When he was president, he said, "I used to ask myself, what would Lincoln do?"

    This is Harry Truman in the late 1930s having a gun pulled on him by Vice President John Nance Garner. They thought it was a joke in those days. Take a look at this image nowadays. A vice president doing this these days wouldn't be so funny.

    When I began doing this, I thought I would be on Twitter for about a week, because I thought there would be about three people who would be interested in looking at old pictures. And the amazing thing was that, within a week, the number of followers really went up very steeply.

    And since then, I have found that there are a lot more people interested in history in America in general and particularly our visual history than I realized.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    He's worth a follow. You can follow Michael's photos on Twitter @BeschlossDC.

    On the "NewsHour" online right now: A national study by the Pew Research Center suggests that our perceptions of progress toward racial equality remain splintered. Four out of 10 African-Americans said they doubt the nation will ever achieve racial equality, while as many white Americans believe racial equality has been achieved. A deeper look at that data and more is on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.

    Tune in later tonight on "Charlie Rose": the music and LGBT politics of the Canadian duo Tegan and Sara.

    And that's the "NewsHour" for tonight. I'm Gwen Ifill.

    Join us online and again here tomorrow evening. For all of us here at the "PBS NewsHour," thank you, and good night.

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